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Personal branding in the age of Google

A friend advertised on Craigslist for a housekeeper.

Three interesting resumes came to the top. She googled each person's name.

The first search turned up a MySpace page. There was a picture of the applicant, drinking beer from a funnel. Under hobbies, the first entry was, "binge drinking."

The second search turned up a personal blog (a good one, actually). The most recent entry said something like, "I am applying for some menial jobs that are below me, and I'm annoyed by it. I'll certainly quit the minute I sell a few paintings."

And the third? There were only six matches, and the sixth was from the local police department, indicating that the applicant had been arrested for shoplifting two years earlier.

Three for three.

Google never forgets.

Of course, you don't have to be a drunk, a thief or a bitter failure for this to backfire. Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you're on Candid Camera, because you are.

The panhandler’s secret

When there were old-school parking meters in New York, quarters were precious.

One day, I'm walking down the street and a guy comes up to me and says, "Do you have a dollar for four quarters?" He held out his hand with four quarters in it.

Curious, I engaged with him. I took out a dollar bill and took the four quarters.

Then he turned to me and said, "can you spare a quarter?"

What a fascinating interaction.

First, he engaged me. A fair trade, one that perhaps even benefited me, not him.

Now, we have a relationship. Now, he knows I have a quarter (in my hand, even). So his next request is much more difficult to turn down. If he had just walked up to me and said, "can you spare a quarter," he would have been invisible.

Too often, we close the sale before we even open it.

Interact first, sell second.

Three things you need if you want more customers

If you want to grow, you need new customers. And if you want new customers, you need three things:

1. A group of possible customers you can identify and reach.
2. A group with a problem they want to solve using your solution.
3. A group with the desire and ability to spend money to solve that problem.

You'd be amazed at how often new businesses or new ventures have none of these. The first one is critical, because if you don't have permission, or knowledge, or word of mouth, you're invisible.

The Zune didn't have #2.

A service aimed at creating videos for bestselling authors doesn't have #1.

And a counseling service helping people cut back on Big Mac consumption doesn't have #3.

Reinventing the Kindle (part II)

Okay, so Amazon's Kindle is cool and it's gaining in traction and people who have one buy a lot of books. 10% of Amazon's book sales are now on the Kindle. [For books where both versions are available].

But it could be so much better. Here are my newest riffs for Jeff and Co.:

1. Give publishers (throughout this post, when I say publishers, I also mean self-published authors) the ability to insert passalong credit with a book. So, if you buy a book, it might come with the right to forward it, for free, to two other people who also have Kindles. Three clicks and you just spread the book.

Let me log in with Facebook Connect and send certain books to all my friends who also have a Kindle.

Let me see the list of the fastest-spreading books. Or fastest spreading among my friends.

2. Give publishers the ability to send free samples of new books to people who have opted in. For example, I could have a master setting on my Kindle that said, "for any book I finish, give the publisher permission to send me up to six free samples." This creates a lever for successful authors and an asset for successful publishers. It lets them start publishing books for their readers instead of trying to find readers for their books.

What happens when Malcolm Gladwell sends a note to all his readers recommending a new book?

3. Anytime I send someone a book (see #1) or recommend a book, let me (with the other person's consent) see the comments they write in the margins of the book as they read it. Imagine being able to read a novel this way with your book group, or a sales manual with your department.

4. Create dynamic pricing. As a book gets more popular, allow the publisher to give a rebate to the first # of  readers… either all or part of a book. If I get good at reading hit books first, I'll end up paying close to nothing but be rewarded for my good taste and ability to sneeze ideas.

5. Let anyone become a publisher with just a few clicks.

6. Demolish the textbook market as soon as possible by publishing open source textbooks for free. It's only natural that profit-minded professors will work to replace this by using #5.

7. Give publishers the ability to insert quizzes or feedback. This creates a certification or continuing ed or textbook opportunity far bigger than a book can deliver.

8. Allow all-you-can-eat subscriptions if the author or publisher wants to provide it. Let me buy every book Seth has written, or all the business books I can handle, or "up to ten books a week." Remember, the marginal cost of a book is now the cost of the bandwidth to deliver it, so buffets make economic sense.

9. And my last one, which I think I mentioned earlier, but it's so good, I'll mention it again: ship the Kindle with $1000 worth of books on it. I'm willing to contribute a couple of titles, and my guess is that most authors would.

It's pretty simple: many book publishers look at this new medium and ask, "how can I use it to augment my current business model." I'd like Amazon to challenge that thinking and say to the world, "how can you use this platform to create a new business model?" Jeff had a very funny appearance on Jon Stewart (it's not easy being funny with a professional comedian) but it would have been easier to tell the story if the Kindle was about community and connection too.

Luckiest guy

This is my 3,000th blog post. (In a row).

Within a week of starting this blog, I had a feeling I wouldn't be giving it up any time soon. It's a difficult habit to develop, but an even harder one to break.

The impact of having one's own personal long tail is huge. It's not about googlefu (at least it shouldn't be) but your footprint expands nonetheless. Do a google search on seersucker suit and there I am, listed third, with a vaguely relevant post. Do one on advice for authors and there I am again. Drip, drip, drip, it adds up. The hard part, as you can guess, is the first 2,500 posts. After that, momentum really starts to build.

Of course, given the lack of ads here, traffic isn't the goal, spreading ideas is. With that in mind, if you'd like to celebrate this milestone (there won't be another like it for three years or so) please go ahead and start a blog. If you already have a blog, please go ahead and post something really interesting today.

If you'd like to vote on your favorite posts over the years, or see my book collecting some of them, it's all here.

And thanks. Thanks for reading and sharing and instigating and helping me grow. I appreciate it more than you know. It's a privilege.

Is marketing evil?

Marketing works.

If you spend time and money (with skill) you can tell a story that spreads, that influences people, that changes actions. Marketing can cause people to buy something that they wouldn't have bought without marketing, vote for someone they might not have considered and support an organization that would have been invisible otherwise.

If marketing doesn't work, then a lot of us are wasting a great deal of effort (and cash). But it does.

So, does that make marketing evil? In a story about this blog, Time magazine wrote, tongue in cheek, "Entry you'll never see [on his blog]: Is marketing evil? Based on a long career in the business, I'd have to answer 'yes.' "

Actually, I need to amend what this pundit said. I'll add this entry: Are marketers evil? Based on a long career in the business, I'd have to answer "some of them."

I think it's evil to persuade kids to start smoking, to cynically manipulate the electoral or political process, to lie to people in ways that cause disastrous side effects. I think it's evil to sell a patent medicine when an effective one is available. I think it's evil to come up with new ways to make obesity acceptable so you can make a few more bucks.

Marketing is beautiful when it persuades people to get a polio vaccine or wash their hands before doing surgery. Marketing is powerful when it sells a product to someone who discovers more joy or more productivity because he bought it. Marketing is magic when it elects someone who changes the community for the better. Ever since Josiah Wedgwood invented marketing a few centuries ago, it has been used to increase productivity and wealth.

I've got a lot of nerve telling you that what you do might be immoral. It's immoral to rob someone's house and burn it to the ground, but is it immoral to market them into foreclosure? Well, if marketing works, if it's worth the time and money, then I don't think it matters a bit if you're doing your job. It's still wrong.

Just like every powerful tool, the impact comes from the craftsman, not the tool. Marketing has more reach, with more speed, than it has ever had before. With less money, you can have more impact than anyone could have imagined just ten years ago. The question, one I hope you'll ask yourself, is what are you going to do with that impact?

For me, marketing works for society when the marketer and consumer are both aware of what's happening and are both satisfied with the ultimate outcome. I don't think it's evil to make someone happy by selling them cosmetics, because beauty isn't the goal, it's the process that brings joy. On the other hand, swindling someone out of their house in order to make a sales commission…

Just because you can market something doesn't mean you should. You've got the power, so you're responsible, regardless of what your boss tells you to do.

The good news is that I'm not in charge of what's evil and what's not. You, your customers and their neighbors are. The even better news is that ethical, public marketing will eventually defeat the kind that depends on the shadows. Just ask Bernie Madoff.

Get rich quick

As long as there have been people who want to get rich, there have been get rich quick schemes. The guys who sell mailing lists have a name for people who buy these schemes: "opportunity seekers."

Raising ostriches, or timing the market or investing in tulips–there's a long history here. The schemes tend to have a few things in common. They tend to have the same tone of voice (part breathless, part bad design, part 'we're just like you') and most of all, they are too good to be true.

Being too good to be true is the key part, because if it's too good to be true, maybe, just maybe, it is true. Maybe all those stuck in the mud types aren't doing it because they're skeptics, maybe I get a chance to invest in this video program/perpetual motion machine/envelope stuffing scheme precisely because it has scared away the conservative folks who never get anywhere.

Online, of course, like most things online, this has blossomed. You'll see the long long web pages filled with ALL CAPS and bright colors and testimonials and "wait there's more!" They look alike for a reason–it's a signal to the opportunity seeker that this is one of those.

Do they convert watchers into buyers? Sure they do. Do a few people make money? Of course.

There's a tribe here, and it's always looking for a new leader. Someone who will sell them an exclusive $1249 course, or ongoing advice and consulting or some other insight that has escaped the market leaders. The more skeptics they generate, the better they do, because the skepticism itself is part of the story that needs to be told.

What's being sold here? It's not riches, because if the riches were automatic, the seller would just hire people, right? Why make 1,000 people into millionaires if you can just hire 1,000 people and be a billionaire? No, it's the belief in riches, the thrill of finding just the right deal, the challenge of getting a relative to loan you money one more time. It's the frisson of excitement from sending in the money, the rush of impatience that follows as you wait for the package, and then the scary moment when you open the package and come face to face with your dreams.

Of course, your dreams are rarely what you hoped (how could they be?) but soon, you'll be back for more. It seems that being an opportunity seeker is about seeking, not finding.

Like a dream come true

That's the way Derek Sivers (founder of CDBaby) described his mission statement in building the company. "What could I build that would be a like a dream come true for independent musicians?"

What an extraordinarily universal way to construct a product, a service or a business. Notice that dreams are rarely "within reason" or "under the circumstances." No, dreams are dreams. If your business is a dream come true for customers, you win. Game over.

Too often, I hear about businesses that just might be a dream come true for their owners, but hardly for the people they seek to recruit or the customers they hope to snare. What do your prospects dream of? What would get them to wait in line?

Do you deserve it?

Do you deserve the luck you've been handed? The place you were born, the education you were given, the job you've got? Do you deserve your tribe, your customer base, your brand?

Not at all. “Deserve” is such a loaded word. Most of us
don’t deserve the great opportunities we have, or the lucky breaks that got us here.

question shouldn’t be, “do you deserve it.” I think it should be, “what
are you going to do with it now that you've got it?"


In down economies,
the only thing that’s going to change things is changing things. This
is hard for a lot of marketers who are used to defending the status
quo, but it’s truly the best option.

If you're not happy with what you've got, what radical changes are you willing to make to change what you're getting?

In my experience, not much. But that doesn't mean you can't start now.